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Pancreatic Cells Interact to Balance Glucose

It is a known fact that hormones in the pancreas help regulate glucose pancreatic beta cells produce insulin which help reduce sugar levels, and alpha cells produce glucagon which boosts them. However, this glucose balance must be within a narrow interval, and both insulin and glucagon are needed to remain healthy.

It is with this premise that scientists at the Karolinska Institutet and Miami University have embarked on a project that aims to find out how the healthy body regulates glucose concentrations in the blood. The scientists discovered that cells in the pancreas cooperate or signal, in a way previously unknown, to maintain the body’s glucose balance. The study team, led by Prof. Berggren, a professor of experimental endocrinology at the Karolinska Institutet, is now working on a hypothesis that when glucose levels are raised in a healthy body, beta cells become active and start to release insulin to lower the glucose levels. Alpha cells then start to secrete glucagon and glutamate, which acts as a positive signal that tells the alpha cells to accelerate the secretion of glucagon to prevent glucose levels from falling too low.

According to Prof. Berggren

It’s this signal pathway that is our discovery, This interaction between beta cells and alpha cells is crucial for normal blood sugar regulation

The team said that this discovery also meant that when the beta cells fail to produce insulin, the signal path for the alpha cells also gets blocked, thus leading to glucose imbalance. On a final note, the scientists hope that this discovery of the pathway would give more momentum to clinical diabetes research. “Maybe we’ll be able to achieve better blood sugar regulation in diabetes patients if we target more the glucagons/glutamate rather than just the insulin,” said Prof. Berggren.

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